German Greens’ “Endless Dilemma” on Arms Exports, Act 3: Will Realos Take All?
(Source: Defense; posted Nov. 08, 2022)

By Alistair Davidson

Germany’s ruling ‘traffic light’ coalition certainly speaks a lot these days to explain its U-turn on certain sensitive issues, especially on defence issues and arms exports. Have the so-called “Realos” (Realists) finally triumphed over the “Fundis” (Fundamentalists)?

It’s not that simple!

In an astonishing interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung published October 14, the (Green) Foreign Minister, Mrs. Baerbock, defended a line she could not guess she would and could support one day: defending arms exports.

Question: “In the coalition agreement, we read that no weapons can be delivered to countries involved in the Yemen war. And yet Saudi Arabia is receiving German defence goods. How do you fancy explaining that at the Greens party convention?”

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock: “I beg to differ: Saudi Arabia is not receiving direct deliveries of German armaments. The ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia stands. Previous governments have however concluded agreements on joint projects with Britain and Spain as a result of which Germany is supplying individual parts for the Eurofighter which also end up in Saudi Arabia. You cannot just wriggle out of this kind of joint project (Emphasis added—Ed.)

“Given the threat to European security posed by Russia since February 24, reliability amongst European partners is more important than ever before. As Europeans, we need to cooperate more closely on defence policy so that we are able to protect ourselves together. That is why, in this particular case that we inherited, we faced difficult choices. We decided not to block deliveries for the joint project but to identify shared criteria for future agreements to facilitate a get-out clause if human rights criteria are not met.

“With our German law on arms export control, we want to ensure these values are more binding in Europe so that we can reach joint decisions instead of ending up with a race to the bottom where the lowest standards prevail. This decision was anything but easy, so I understand the criticism. But I personally am convinced that we need to face up to this European dilemma at the current time to find joint solutions rather than shirking responsibility.”

This statement aimed at striking the right and morale balance between European solidarity and demanding criteria. To sum up: we did give the green light (that is for the realism) but we want to strike a compromise at the European level (that is for idealism). But behind the stage, the internal history of the 48th days of the Federal delegates of the Green Party will recall that the idealistic line has been harshly rebuffed.

The motion FS-12-384 seeking to reverse the government's decision to allow the export of IRIS-T missiles by Diehl to Saudi Arabia was withdrawn from the list. Jenny Laube, coordinator of the Greens in Berlin, only had 3 minutes to respond to Mrs. Baerbock's speech and even Jürgen Trittin, though an early activist of the Greens after the founders Heinrich Böll and Petra Kelly and viewed as the “conscience of the movement”, rallied to the party line.

Despite the opposition, the Greens have ratified the Chancellor’s line: the contracts signed with the European partner countries must be honoured; even if it is a moral dilemma, Germany only indirectly delivers arms to Arabia or the UAE, through its European partners: this is an exceptional case.

At the SPD, realism on self-defence

On the occasion of various birthdays of SPD figures, Party Chairman Lars Klingbeil defended the realistic U-turn of the coalition, twisting the arms of several historic principles of the party. On arms exports, he praised the defence of “self-defence” of an attacked country and the morale right to export to it arms.

Nothing new here: this point is now officially recognised because it appears in point 5, pages 3 & 4 of the key principles on export control of October 13 (Eckpunkte für das Rüstungsexportkontrollgesetz). But at a SPD conference celebrating Egon Bahr ‘s and Willy Brandt’s memories, it was a bomb shell whose noise has been reduced by the statement that the whole foreign and defence policy would be revised soon.

Arms export: a real victory for the Fundis?

So, did the Fundis lose all their cases against the Realos? Surely not, and it may the future paradox of all these developments in the coalition and in the political parties to think that they lost where they won at the end of the day.

Yes, the current coalition has agreed to concede some minor arms deliveries to Saudi Arabia, UAE and Egypt, but they were remnants of the past. In the future, Germany should avoid this moral dilemma because Europe would have embraced its ideas: this is the idea behind the so-called “European harmonization” of national export laws.

Yes, the current coalition has agreed to ease some German restrictions in joint defence projects, but in the future, these cases will never again embarrass any German coalition, because European nations would have chosen the German model: associating voting rights to each partner in function of its weight in the joint project, so that any export decision would be taken at a qualified majority (“Eine Option ist, dass sie im Falle des Exports gemeinsam produzierter Rüstungsgüter auch gemeinsame, mit (ggf. qualifizierter) Mehrheit getroffene Entscheidungen der Kooperationspartner vorsehen. Für die Mehrheitsentscheidungen ist eine Stimmrechtsgewichtung anzustreben, die dem jeweiligen Umfang der Projektbeteiligung der Kooperationspartner entspricht”).

So, fundamentalism has not been fully overshadowed or killed off by realism. In fact, at the end of the day, the very opposite may prove true.

Would that be good news for the entire European defence industry? Certainly not.


This is a three-part series: The previous episodes can be found below:

Click here for Part 1.

Click here for Part 2.


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